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Torchlight Columns Repository

Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Hyper Objects In A Time Of Hyper Politics

March 16, 2017

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

"After Nature" is an exhibit of ice sheets and shoreline bedazzled photographs taken by artist Justin Brice Guariglia from a NASA research plane. It displays instants in time of a frozen Greenland that looks eternal, but which is undergoing profound climate-caused disruptions. What's captured in his photographs — many printed on indestructible Styrofoam — has already changed. What's unseen, but key to the meaning of "After Nature" is the idea that climate change is a "hyperobject", something that doesn't exist in just one place or at one time.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Where Do We Go From Here?

December 13, 2016

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

What must the US climate action movement, policy makers and concerned business sectors do as annual temperature records break and the risk rises of blowing past the temperature caps, which scientists and signatories to the Paris Climate Accord say must be achieved to stop irreversible global chaos and damage? The election of Donald Trump has driven anxiety and teeth-gnashing to unprecedented levels about resurgent climate denialism. Looking locally, what can cities and states be doing in the Trump Age that will make a difference at a scale that matters when it comes to climate change. Answers to these questions have grave implications for public security, public health and even business as usual.

First, take a deep breath and repeat when needed, "To be truly radical is to make hope possible, not despair convincing". Now, let's take a virtual tour of the landscape for climate hope.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Cutting Carbon Is The New Black

August 23, 2016

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

"You had me at hello", the famous line Renee Zelwegger used on Tom Cruise in the 1996 film Jerry Maguire, echoed the day I met Yeohlee Teng at her fashion-forward NYC shop, when she volunteered that local production of her clothes helped to "shrink her carbon footprint. She had me at "shrink".

Next thing I knew, I sat down for a chat with Yeohlee about her design practices, honed over a career going back to 1981, and read a book about her work. [1] Before that "shrink" moment, fashion, one of NYC's most storied industries, had meant "shopping" to me. Doing something about the city's carbon footprint and raising its sustainability quotient meant my professional work on advocacy and education around high performance buildings, renewable energy, growing good green jobs and smart infrastructure. Suddenly, new greener city vistas were opening to me and at a time where local and national attention is both riveted and riven over what kinds of jobs and what kind of society should we want to be building.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Energy Democracy Rising

February 11, 2016

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Sociologists who study social movements grapple with characterizing their subject matter. For some, movements arise to solve problems by way of executing specific agendas. Others postulate that problem-solving agendas can emerge for groups that started out in search of solutions to another problem. Today's quest for "energy democracy" in cities like New York is arising from a social movement matrix demanding more affordable housing as it finds common cause with urban climate movement activists and professionals calling for energy efficiency buildings and replacing fossil fuels for heating, cooling and electricity, with renewable energy.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Beat The Extreme Heat

November 30, 2015

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

OK, writing about scorching hot weather in December may seem a bit odd, but bear with me. Global temperature trends, with 2015 on track for being the hottest year in the historical record, and with the evidence in hand to debunk climate denialist claims of a pause or hiatus in global warming over the last 15 years mean that deep damage to the Earth's climate is happening now. And that's not all for city dwellers. The urban heat island effect (UHIE) at the city-scale is something we are already all too familiar with. With temperatures rising 4–8 degrees Fahrenheit above surrounding areas and staying hotter at night time, UHIE makes us more than sweaty and sticky; it makes us sick; and heat stroke poses increased risk of dying, especially for the elderly and the frail.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D. & Stuart Brodsky

Building Energy Performance: What’s Evidence Got To Do With It?

October 05, 2015

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D. & Stuart Brodsky

New York City's landmark Building Energy Benchmarking statute, Local Law 84, is one of the singular achievements of Mike Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030 and has the potential to serve as a power tool for helping to realize Mayor de Blasio's goal of cutting the city's carbon footprint 80% by 2050. By potential we mean the extent to which LL84 findings are presently underutilized. By potential we also mean, given the information about building energy use now on hand and the knowledge gleaned about how this data can be applied to building features and operations, there are significant benefits still to be gained.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Getting Active On Passive House

June 18, 2015

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

I'm a fan of Passive House. Ever since visiting the top-to-bottom renovation job for an elegant 19th century home in Brooklyn Heights undertaken by architect Ken Levenson back in 2011, the potential for constructing — or in this case reconstructing — urban buildings to keep occupants really comfortable year round without boiler heating or air conditioning in every room has been my yard stick to measure all other climate-friendly buildings. Levenson's Snapshot column was the first introduction Sallan readers had to Passive House, and since then, Ken's been one very busy Passive House advocate.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

The Spanish Requirement

March 17, 2015

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Omri Ben-Shahar concludes a scathing attack on contemporary disclosure laws with a barbed reference to a 400-word pronouncement, called the "Spanish Requirement". It was a prepared statement read in Spanish by 16th Century conquistadors to New World inhabitants, which warned them, having been put on notice, to "acknowledge the Church as the rule and superior of the whole world" or else!

More Than You Wanted To Know book jacket
Image: Book Jacket

While Professor Ben-Shahar concedes, "Happily, disclosures no longer excuse slaughter and slavery", he and his co-author Carl E. Schneider in More Than You Wanted to Know: The Failure of Mandated Disclosures, set out to make the case that today's disclosure laws, often called "sunshine" laws, are, at best, a waste of time because they fail to inform, warn or change anyone's behavior. At worst, disclosure laws shield bad actors from legal liability and let timid politicians hide behind the supposed virtues of enacting sunshine laws rather than passing bills to outlaw the behaviors that disclosure laws are supposed to help us see and thus avoid or amend. These are serious indictments, and as a long-standing supporter of New York City's very own sunshine statute, the Energy Benchmarking Law, enacted in 2009, I knew I needed to read this book with care. What if it's right?

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Promising Promises

January 20, 2015

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

"In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" is a much-admired short story by Delmore Schwartz where the character becomes increasingly agitated in a dream as he watches a film depicting his parents' courtship. Readers are apt to reflect on their own family dramas, hopes and regrets. While, for most of us, the drama of climate change, sustainability and its fierce political struggles is not the same as the family variety, the implicit questions about the choices we make and the responsibilities we incur run deep for both.

As Sallan begins its second decade, it's a good moment to reflect on what promises were made and my sense of what was at stake back in 2005 when Torchlight #1 was posted. Much has happened in the arena of urban sustainability and climate change since then, some of it very good, some of it not, and our responsibilities should press us onward. But, exactly how?

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

The Difficulty Of Simplicity

November 10, 2014

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Use more four-letter words. No, not those kinds, but short, everyday four letter words that mean more to most people than "sustainability" or "resiliency" or even "benchmarking building energy efficiency". Climate activists, energy system innovators, and campaigners for grassroots eco-engagement need to do a better job when trying to tell fellow citizens what they should think is important, which in turn will influence their everyday choices, like the stuff they spend money on and who they vote for. We can't expect most people to take up zero-carbon lifestyles as a rallying cry because people have a lot of other things on their minds and much to do every day. But becoming climate aware and climate smart and energy-educated is well within everyone's reach. This is the reason we've got to do better at making our messages and our prescriptions easy to grasp.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

The De Blasio Benchmarking Blessing

September 29, 2014

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Mayor de Blasio has given a special vote of confidence to Local Law 84, the building energy benchmarking mandate, in his climate policy vision report "One City, Built to Last: Transforming New York City's Buildings for a Low-Carbon Future". At the very same time, the US Environmental Protection Agency has released an expanded version of Energy Star, a software program that for the first time allows multi-family property owners and managers to score and rate their properties' energy performance and make comparisons with comparable properties. Talk about great timing, now that New York has become the biggest city in the world to set a goal of cutting its carbon emissions 80% by the year 2050.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

May The Force Be With Us

July 08, 2014

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… make that December 2013 in New York, a targeted expansion to the plan for shrinking New York City's carbon footprint, was born. This Carbon Challenge was originally devised to get government building managers — "leading by example" — along with voluntary commitments by large institutions like universities, hospitals and large office buildings, to cut their CO2 emissions by 30% in half the time outlined in PlaNYC 2030. The expansion, which came out less than a month before Mayor de Blasio took office, called for some of New York's largest multi-family property managers to encourage their co-op, condo and rental clients to embrace this same fast-track emissions reduction goal and cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 15% over the next decade. Here's how it's designed to work.

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Spiral staircase inside armature of Lady Liberty